I Won't Back Down

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"I Won't Back Down"
TP - I Wont Back Down single.jpg
Single by Tom Petty
from the album Full Moon Fever
  • "The Apartment Song"
  • "Don't Treat Me Like a Stranger"
ReleasedApril 1989 (1989-04)
GenreHeartland rock
Tom Petty singles chronology
"All Mixed Up"
"I Won't Back Down"
"Runnin' Down a Dream"
Audio sample
"I Won't Back Down"

"I Won't Back Down" is a song by American rock musician Tom Petty. It was released in April 1989 as the lead single from his first solo album, Full Moon Fever. The song was co-written by Petty and Jeff Lynne, also his writing partner for the album. It reached number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topped the Album Rock Tracks chart for five weeks, starting the album's road to multi-platinum status.

Background and writing[edit]

Petty recalled the recording of this song to Mojo magazine: "At the session George Harrison sang and played the guitar. I had a terrible cold that day, and George went to the store and bought a ginger root, boiled it and had me stick my head in the pot to get the ginger steam to open up my sinuses, and then I ran in and did the take."[1]

Critical reception[edit]

Members of the Scottish pop band Win reviewed the song for the May 13, 1989 issue of British music newspaper Record Mirror. Emmanuel Shoniwa and Davy Henderson both found the title track dated. Shoniwa said: "He's definitely got old before his time, surrounding himself with his heroes" and Henderson echoed: "He seems to have willed himself into becoming a 40-years-old has-been".[2] Jerry Smith, reviewer of British music newspaper Music Week, called this track "extremely catchy, chugging rocker" and expressed an opinion that Jeff Lynne's production "is sure to leave its mark in the build up to the release of his forthcoming LP".[3] Music & Media found it "rootsy, very American rock with country overtones. Simple and charming with a nostalgic, early 70s production."[4]


A message of defiance against unnamed forces of difficulty and possibly oppression, the lyric is set against a mid-tempo beat:

Well I know what's right, I got just one life
in a world that keeps on pushin' me around
but I'll stand my ground, and I won't back down

Due to its themes, the song was played often on American radio following the September 11 attacks.[5] Petty and the Heartbreakers played a quiet but resolute version of the song at the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon following the 2001 attacks.[5][6]

In the 2007 documentary Runnin' Down a Dream, Petty said that he felt some initial hesitation about releasing the song, given its clear and unabashed message.[7]

Agreement with Sam Smith[edit]

In January 2015, it was revealed that an agreement had been reached whereby Petty and Jeff Lynne would be credited as co-writers of Sam Smith's song "Stay with Me" and receive 12.5% of its royalties. Petty's publishing company had contacted Smith's publisher after noticing a likeness between "Stay with Me" and "I Won't Back Down".[8] Petty clarified that he did not believe Smith plagiarized him, saying "All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam's people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement".[9][10] Smith claimed not to have heard "I Won't Back Down" before writing "Stay with Me",[11] but acknowledged the similarity after listening to the song, calling it "a complete coincidence".[12][13] Petty and Lynne were not eligible for a Grammy Award ("Stay with Me" was nominated for three awards at the 57th annual ceremony, winning two of them) as the Recording Academy considered "Stay with Me" to have been interpolated from "I Won't Back Down" by Smith, James Napier, and William Phillips, the writers of "Stay with Me"; Petty and Lynne were instead given certificates to honor their participation in the work, as is usual for writers of sampled or interpolated work.[14]


Harrison and Lynne also appear in the music video with Harrison's former Beatles bandmate, Ringo Starr, playing drums even though Starr did not play on the recording.



Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[25] Silver 200,000double-dagger

double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Use in political campaigns[edit]

George W. Bush used "I Won't Back Down" at campaign events during the 2000 presidential campaign but was compelled to stop using the song after receiving a cease and desist letter from Petty's publisher.[26][27] Petty then went on to perform the song at Al Gore's home after Gore conceded the election to President Bush.[28] Jim Webb used the song for his successful bid for one of Virginia's U.S. Senate seats in 2006, as did Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign. The song was also used at campaign events for Congressman Ron Paul of Texas during the 2008 Republican presidential primary campaign, as well as for events for his Campaign for Liberty. The song was also played at an event for Republican Connecticut gubernatorial nominee, Tom Foley.[29] The song was also played at the 2012 Democratic National Convention after a speech delivered by President Bill Clinton, in which President Barack Obama came out on stage to salute him.

In June 2020, Petty's family issued a cease and desist letter to President Donald Trump's campaign for its use of "I Won't Back Down" at Trump's rally in Tulsa on June 20, 2020. The letter stated: "Trump was in no way authorized to use this song to further a campaign that leaves too many Americans and common sense behind. Both the late Tom Petty and his family firmly stand against racism and discrimination of any kind. Tom Petty would never want a song of his used for a campaign of hate. He liked to bring people together".[30]

In November 2020, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris played "I Won't Back Down" at their victory speech in Wilmington, Delaware. Petty's family wrote on Instagram that they were "touched to see Tom included on such an important night in America."[31]

Use in sports campaigns[edit]

Fans singing "I Won't Back Down" at Florida Field, University of Florida
  • Playing the song has become a tradition at Florida Gators football games at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Petty's hometown. Petty died unexpectedly on October 2, 2017, and at the next home football game the following Saturday, the "I Won't Back Down" was played between the third and fourth quarters immediately after the traditional university song "We Are the Boys from Old Florida". It has been played at that time at every subsequent Gator home game, with fans singing along and holding aloft cell phones to fill the stadium with lights.[32]
  • The San Francisco Giants used the song for Jeff Brantley's walk-on in the 1989 season; that year the Giants went to the World Series to face the Oakland Athletics, where game three was interrupted by a major earthquake and postponed for two weeks.
  • The Ottawa Senators used the song as a campaign anthem in December 1990 at their presentation to be awarded an NHL franchise at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida. The unlikely bid received unanimous support from the NHL and the franchise was awarded on December 6, 1990.[33]
  • The song was used as the walkout song for the Australian Rugby League club the Melbourne Storm from 1999 to 2007.
  • The TCU Horned Frogs used the song as their slogan during the 2009 season, and incorporated into their merchandise during the year.[34]
  • The Johnny Cash cover of the song from the album American III: Solitary Man was used for a Rogers Sportsnet advertising campaign for the 2010-2011 NHL season.[35]
  • UFC fighter Chris Weidman used the song for his walkout music throughout his career. Most notably at UFC 162 when he fought Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. Going into the fight as the underdog, Weidman upset the Champion and was the first person to beat Silva in almost 7 years. Because of the fitting lyrics, this has often been regarded as one of the best UFC walkouts of all time.[36]

All appearances[edit]

The song was also released as downloadable content for Rock Band 2.

Notable cover versions[edit]


  1. ^ Snow, Mat. "Tom Petty interview". MOJO. January 2010 (194). Retrieved 2014-07-15.
  2. ^ Henderson, Davy; Shoniwa, Emmanuel (13 May 1989). "Review: Tom Petty – "I Won't Back Down"" (PDF). Record Mirror. London: Spotlight Publications Ltd. p. 29. ISSN 0144-5804. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 October 2021. Retrieved 12 February 2022 – via World Radio History.
  3. ^ Smith, Jerry (6 May 1989). "Review: Tom Petty – "I Won't Back Down"" (PDF). Music Week. London: Spotlight Publications Ltd. p. 27. ISSN 0265-1548. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 January 2022. Retrieved 16 February 2022 – via World Radio History.
  4. ^ "Review: Tom Petty – "I Won't Back Down"" (PDF). Music & Media. Amsterdam: European Music Report BV. 22 April 1989. p. 16. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 March 2022. Retrieved 17 September 2022 – via World Radio History.
  5. ^ a b Schumacher-Rasmussen, Eric (September 22, 2001). "Mariah Carey, Springsteen, Other Stars Sing For America On Telethon". MTV News.
  6. ^ Crandall, Bill (September 24, 2001). "Artists Rise Up for America". Rolling Stone.
  7. ^ Peter Bogdanovich (director) (2007). Runnin' Down a Dream (Documentary). Event occurs at 2:43:25. Of all the songs I've written I think I get the most feedback about that song. And it is a personal song – when I did it I sort of thought that I laid it out, you know, with no ambiguity at all – like I just said it very plainly – and I kind of felt nervous about it like maybe I should take it back and disguise it a little bit, but I'm glad I didn't – and it's very much like me.
  8. ^ "Sam Smith: Tom Petty given writing credit for Stay with Me". BBC News. 2015-01-27.
  9. ^ Kreps, Daniel (2015-01-29). "Tom Petty on Sam Smith Settlement: 'No Hard Feelings. These Things Happen'". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 2015-01-31. Retrieved 2015-01-31.
  10. ^ Lac, J. Freedom du (9 February 2015). "The only person Sam Smith didn't thank at the Grammys deserves a lot of credit". The Washington Post.
  11. ^ "Sam Smith explains why he settled copyright dispute with Tom Petty". CBC. Feb 7, 2015.
  12. ^ Copland, Chris (25 January 2015). "Tom Petty awarded songwriting royalties for Sam Smith's "Stay With Me"". Consequence of Sound. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  13. ^ "Sam Smith: Tom Petty given writing credit for Stay With Me". BBC. January 27, 2015. Retrieved January 27, 2015.
  14. ^ Roberts, Randall (January 26, 2015). "Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne added to credits of Sam Smith's 'Stay With Me'". Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ "Tom Petty – I Won't Back Down". ARIA Top 50 Singles.
  16. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 6378." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  17. ^ "Tom Petty – I Won't Back Down". Top 40 Singles.
  18. ^ "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company.
  19. ^ "Tom Petty Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  20. ^ "Tom Petty Chart History (Mainstream Rock)". Billboard. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  21. ^ "Tom Petty Chart History (Alternative Airplay)". Billboard. Retrieved October 8, 2017.
  22. ^ "Offiziellecharts.de – Tom Petty – I Won't Back Down". GfK Entertainment charts. Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  23. ^ "The ARIA Australian Top 100 Singles Chart – 1989". ARIA. Retrieved January 7, 2020 – via Imgur.
  24. ^ "Top 100 Singles of '89". RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  25. ^ "British single certifications – Tom Petty – I Won't Back Down". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  26. ^ O'Connor, Roisin (October 2, 2017). "Tom Petty once sent a cease and desist letter to George W. Bush". The Independent.
  27. ^ Suddath, Claire. "A Brief History of Campaign Songs - George W. Bush". Time.
  28. ^ "Petty, Popper Serenade Gore After Concession". ABC News. December 14, 2000.
  29. ^ Pieslak, Jonathan (November 3, 2015). Radicalism and Music An Introduction to the Music Cultures of al-Qa'ida, Racist Skinheads, Christian-Affiliated Radicals, and Eco-Animal Rights Militants. Wesleyan. p. 244. ISBN 978-0819575845.
  30. ^ Bake, Cole (June 21, 2020). "Tom Petty's Family Send Cease-And-Desist Letter To Trump For Song Use". HotNewHipHop. Retrieved June 22, 2020.
  31. ^ Salo, Jackie (2020-11-08). "Tom Petty's family 'touched' by Joe Biden playing 'I Won't Back Down'". Page Six. Retrieved 2020-11-09.
  32. ^ Andreu, Robbie (October 9, 2017). "Petty song a new Florida Field tradition". The Gainesville Sun. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
  33. ^ "These are the Ottawa Senators you know". Ottawa Citizen. December 5, 2005. Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved April 10, 2012. Firestone turned 39 the day before the bid presentation. Leeder and Sexton, boyhood hockey pals from Brockville, were 31. Waiting in a holding room, feeling a little like caged animals, the group got psyched up the way athletes do, by listening to inspiring music. In this case, it was the theme song of their mission -- Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down".
  34. ^ Evans, Thayer (November 14, 2009). "T.C.U. Fans Are Singing Football Coach's Praises". The New York Times.
  35. ^ Canucks Won't Back Down on YouTube
  36. ^ Newman, Scott. "10 best walkout songs in UFC history". www.sportskeeda.com. Retrieved 2022-04-10.

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